Fiber Optic Network in Long Distance IP Surveillance

Fiber optic network is by far the fastest and most reliable network connection, especially in long-distance transmission. For the past few years, coaxial/UTP cabling had always been the most favored candidates for data transmission in surveillance systems. However, the fiber optic network has gradually progressed into the front-runner in data communication to reach the fastest-speed network today. It’s a cost-effective solution to facilitate video surveillance in far-to-reach areas. In this blog, we’re gonna cover everything you need to know about the fiber optic network and its application in long-distance IP surveillance.

What’s Fiber Optic Network?

Fiber optic network is a broadband connection where data is transmitted in the form of light signals (lasers or LED lights) through fiber optic cables. As one of the most important technologies in communications, it provides the communication backbone of the Internet. Theoretically, the transmission speed of fiber optics could reach 2/3 the velocity of light in glass-made fiber optic cables (with a refractive index of 1.5), nearly 200,000,000 meters per second. The average transmission speed is rated at 10 Gbps and more, but signal degradation is possible when used with incompatible devices. Due to its inherent advantages: interference immunity, higher bandwidth, low latency and most importantly, its fast network speed in a wide variety of applications, the fiber optic network has made itself stand out in building high-performance networks in long-distance deployments.

How Does Fiber Optic Network Work?

Simply put, light travels down a fiber optic cable by repeatedly bouncing off the ‘walls’ of the cable with continued internal mirror-like reflection. And these fiber cables are normally made of many smaller optic fibers. The optic fiber is extremely thin, slightly thicker than human hairs, and the fiber core is only 5 to 100 microns in diameter (just for your reference, a paper is 25-micron-thick and the human hair is 75-micron-thick).

In the fiber optic network, light pulses are teleported through numerous microscopic strands of plastic or glass fibers. And thousands of these fibers are arranged in bundles (fiber core). The core of fiber then is radially enclosed by an insulated, transparent casing named the cladding, to prevent light leakage during the passthrough. This structure makes the fiber function as a ‘light pipe’, in which the light bounces back and forth in a controlled manner, even when bent or twisted. And hardly any light will be absorbed by the cladding, which is why the fiber can carry light at greater distances with the same intensity. Outside the cladding is a protective layer known as a buffer tube to protect the fibers from any kind of physical damages during installation. And all these strands and layers are wrapped by a jacket to shield the fiber strands against outside hazards like moisture or penetrative particulates.

Once the light pulses reach their destination, an optical network terminal (ONT) will convert the signal to the electrical Ethernet which your device can understand and use. Since most fiber networks cannot directly blend into the network infrastructure your home or office can use, the stretch between the main fiber network line and the end-user is called the ‘last mile’ (distance will vary in actual applications). The ‘last mile’ is also fulfilled by the old-fashioned coaxial cable, copper cable or wireless transmissions, so this is why you’ll need Fiber Media Converters for signal conversion when using fiber optic technology.

Benefits of Fiber Optic Network

  • High-speed data transmission rates of up to 10 Gbps and higher
  • Low attenuation, low latency, suitable for long-distance transmissions
  • Immunity to crosstalk, EMI interference, network congestion, bad weather, etc.
  • Symmetrical upload and download speeds in Point-to-Point network connections
  • Scalability with a high-bandwidth capacity for future expansions
  • Smaller size and better tensile strength, making it easier to install

Fiber vs Copper vs Wireless

PoE is a state-of-the-art technology that transmits power and data via a single Ethernet cable to the powered devices at a maximum distance of 100m, eliminating the need for additional power cabling. However, the main drawback is that most PoE devices in the market will experience considerable degradation over long distances. When the distance goes beyond 500 meters, its bandwidth will slow down from 1000 Mbps to 10 Mbps due to DC interference along with severe power loss. Given its downfall in data transmission, the fiber optic network is clearly a better fit in long distances. Optic fibers are impervious to EMI, making them more applicable to places where lightning and power surges are regularly present.

Wireless network uses radio frequencies to send signals between devices by converting the signals into electromagnetic waves, which cuts down the volume of cabling. Theoretically, it could transmit the data at the same speed as fiber optics, but it’ll get hindered by physical infrastructures. Its network speed gradually slows down as it’s blocked by walls, foliage, etc. The signal will degrade as the distance increases. Besides, maintaining the wireless network is more challenging than fibers, and it’s more susceptible to security hazards and bad weather. However, wired connections could hardly be affected by physical obstructions. The wireless network is slower when there’s more internet traffic in your neighborhood, while the fiber optic network is only accessible to your properties, within a building, server or workstation.

Applications of Fiber Optic Network

• Broadband Internet: Fiber optic cables are widely used in broadband Internet to transmit a large amount of data at high speeds. Compared with the traditional copper cables, they are lighter, less bulky and easier to fit into small breaches, and most importantly, they can deliver data at much higher throughput, which makes them stand out in the network cabling.

• Computer networking: Networking between computers in a single building or between two nearby structures is much easier to accomplish with fiber optic cabling to seek a faster and more reliable network connection. The fiber cables support a larger bandwidth, and therefore they support a higher capacity, ideal for network expansions in the near future.

• Video conferencing: The lack of bandwidth is often suffered in video conferencing when multiple video devices are connected to the network or the distance of video transmission is beyond limits. Lost data packets caused by external interference also result in buffering and poor quality video display. But the fiber optic network offers comparatively high bandwidth with minimal attenuation to assure high speed, buffer-free video signal transmission.

• Surveillance systems: The fiber optic cabling is a cost-effective solution normally used in surveillance systems, especially in IP camera systems, where a fast-speed network is highly needed to secure real-time, round-the-clock monitoring 365 days. Since most fiber optic cables carry a network speed of at least 1Gbps, they can allow signals to be sent over distances measured in kilometers without severe time lag.

Optimizing Video Surveillance with Fiber Optics

IP surveillance has evolved exponentially from simple video monitoring to today’s intelligent surveillance systems that are integrated with AI platforms, access control systems to identify abnormal events. Nowadays, IP cameras can be deployed in different scenarios, such as an office building, shopping mall, parking lot, hotel, etc., to perform continuous monitoring with automated efficiency. But the question is, with the increased adoption of IP products (i.e. PTZ camera) to the surveillance systems, the traditional copper wiring fails to support such a high-bandwidth consumption system considering the distance and bandwidth limitations of UTP cabling. However, fiber optics are capable of carrying multiple high-definition IP cameras at once, sending massive amounts of information across vast distances, and securing fast-speed data transmission with no data deterioration.

Why Using Fiber Optics in IP Surveillance?

One of the most obvious reasons why fiber optics is a better fit for IP surveillance in remote areas is that fiber optic network has overcome the restrictions on the monitored environment and the geographical challenges of deploying multiple IP cameras in different locations. With fiber optic network, you can easily extend the transmission distance to 60-80 km without severe attenuation. The superior transmission features of the fiber-optic cabling reduce the need for expensive signal amplifiers and extenders over great distances. For the twisted-pair copper cabling, the signal would have to be amplified at several instances along the way.

Fiber optics offer a strong anti-interference capability and stable information transmission over long distances. It’s well-known that fiber cables are immune to electromagnetic interference because they don’t conduct electricity that will give rise to any electromagnetic field over the long cable runs, so there is no signal leakage outside of the fiber cable, which means the transmission cannot be tapped or accessed by unauthorized people. By the way, the chances of crosstalk are relatively lower when using fiber optic cabling, which is the key to building a precise surveillance system. Attributed to their immunity to interference, the need to process the repeated signals is highly eliminated.

Fiber optic network is highly durable and future-proof with a prolonged service life of up to 50 years without frequent maintenance, which makes it a worthwhile investment in the long run. Besides, it features a large bandwidth capacity which is hundreds of times higher than your existing network, and it is also less susceptible to other safety and security issues. As the media in fiber optic communications, fiber optic cables are normally made of lightweight and weatherproof materials. They offer great versatility for deployments in different scenarios, i.e. under the sea or buried directly under the ground.

How to Design a Fiber Network System for Video Surveillance?

To set up a fiber optic network for the IP video surveillance system, you have to figure out how many cameras you’re gonna install, the distance from the control room, the bandwidth of the desired network, etc. To set up the fiber optic network, you’ll need a router, an NVR, a fiber switch, fiber media converters, SFP modules, pre-terminated fiber optic cables, Cat5e/6 Ethernet cables and the IP cameras themselves. And for outdoor applications, all the network devices (the ones used outdoors or buried under the ground) need to carry the IP ratings of at least IP65/66 to survive the harsh environment in outdoor deployments.

Manage Multiple IP Cameras with a Fiber Optic Switch

To manage multiple IP cameras at a time, it’s always recommended to deploy a fiber optic switch to realize data management from a central point. It is a network device that transfers optical signals through fiber optic cables to the IP cameras. Compared to the PoE switch, the transmission speed is faster in the fiber switch. Nowadays, fiber optic switches have been widely applied in data centers, computer networks and surveillance systems. The fiber optic switch can eliminate congestion to the minimum in the signal transmission. It’s ideal for heavy traffic and complex networks. And the fiber switch is often used with SFP modules and fiber media converters for media conversion since the IP cameras can only receive digital signals. The 8 Port Fiber Optic SFP switch from Fastcabling has 8* 10/100/1000Mbps SFP slots and 2*Gigabit uplink ports and can be used as a central management tool for deploying multiple IP cameras at different locations. The uplink ports can be connected to the NVR and the local server at the control center.

Media Conversion Products Easing the Transition to Fiber

Nowadays, the number of IP cameras or devices that support an optical SFP interface are quite limited. To set up a fiber optic network for IP cameras, media conversion can be a cost-effective way to integrate fiber optic cabling into an existing IP-based video surveillance system. Therefore, media conversion products, such as Media Converters and SFP Modules, are required to accomplish the transition from fiber to copper, or vice versa.

Fiber Media Converters

Fiber media converters are straightforward networking devices to repurpose the existing network infrastructure, often utilized to create a connection between dissimilar media types (i.e. fiber optic cables and twisted pairs) by converting optical signals into electrical signals, and vice versa. Furthermore, it offers a cost-effective solution to upgrade the existing wiring configurations with a minimal impact on the legacy device. The media converter can work with different types of cables such as coaxial cables, twisted-pair cables and single-mode or multi-mode fiber optic cables depending on different manufacturers.

The fiber media converters are widely used in various scenarios other than the surveillance system, ranging from building access controls to enterprise/campus LANs and governmental projects. They often work in pairs for copper-to-fiber conversion to realize high-speed data transmission in the surveillance system. A generic media converter is composed of a PoE port, an SFP module slot and a power input port. It receives the electrical signals from the PSE, converts them into optical signals and transfers them down the fiber cable to the other media converter. And the second device will then convert the signals back to the electrical signals that the edge device can receive. Fastcabling has launched a Waterproof Industrial Hardened Grade Fiber PoE Media Converter that can deliver PoE directly to the edge devices like IP cameras with a maximum power output of 30W.

Read more about Media Converters here.

SFP Modules

An SFP module is a small modular transceiver that plugs into the SFP port on a network switch, fiber switch or media converter to facilitate seamless conversion of Ethernet signals into optical signals to transfer and receive data. Also, the SFP module is hot-swappable, featuring a rather small footprint, which makes it easy to adjust existing networks without having to redesign the entire network infrastructure. It is mainly used with copper or fiber optic cables. Its small size makes it ideal for applications even in areas that may not be very accessible. The SFP modules are mainly classified based on their speed capabilities, such as 100BASE-T, 1000BASE-T and 10GBASE-T. For most SFP modules, the transmission speed is 1 Gigabit, but the newer versions such as SPF+ have a higher speed of transmission, from 10 to 25 Gigabit, to support high-speed network communication with compatible network switches and media converters. When deploying SFP modules in a video surveillance system, you need to check their compatibility with the network switch or other connected devices.

Fiber Optic Cables for Long-distance Network Connection

The fiber optic network, just as its Ethernet counterpart, is hardwired, and the connection is completed by the fiber optic cables. When choosing cables for the video surveillance system, the following should be taken into thorough consideration: transmission speed, deployment distance, environment, etc.

Single Mode or Multi-mode Fiber Optic Cable?

There are two primary types of fiber optic cables involved in data networking: single-mode fiber cables (SMF) and multi-mode fiber cables (MMF). The single-mode fiber cable has a rather small fiber core size, allowing the light to pass through it without too much reflection so as to keep the attenuation to a minimum, while the multi-mode fiber cable has a larger fiber core which creates more reflection and generates more signal loss. Moreover, SMF has a higher bandwidth than MMF. SMF is widely used in long-distance and higher-bandwidth deployments, while MMF is used for short distances, like within a building (≤550 meters).

Glass or Plastic Fiber Optic Cable?

According to materials, fiber cables could also be classified into glass fiber cable and plastic fiber cable. The glass fiber cable is immune to ambient temperatures, chemical exposure and mechanical stress, which makes it applicable to video surveillance in harsh environments like warehouses and factories. It features fast-speed networking over long distances, but it is susceptible to bending and breakage. The plastic fiber cable is more sturdy, but it is more suitable for low-speed and short-distance applications since it’ll suffer a considerable amount of signal loss at greater distances. Read more about Fiber Optic Cables here.

Field-terminated or Pre-terminated Fiber Cable?

Unlike Ethernet cables that usually come with a connector, fiber optic cables are not always pre-terminated. Proper cable termination ensure decreased signal loss and better network performance at optimal speeds. And the first priority of fiber termination is to reduce return and insertion loss. There are two termination options available: field termination and factory or pre-termination. Professional fiber fusion, splicing or polishing are required in the field termination to make a precise connection, while the per-terminated fiber cables arrive on-site with the connectors attached and ready to install.

In the field termination, you can customize the cable length to your specific needs with very little up-front planning time required, but it’s labor/time-consuming, requires special tools and instruments and the quality depends on skill, experience, and components. However, the pre-terminated fiber cables are more cost-effective and reliable than the field-terminated cables. Though they are normally made at pre-defined length and too bulky for cable tracks, they have the minimum possible insertion loss. The pre-terminated fiber cables are undeniable of higher quality and provide more reliable performance than their counterparts in mission-critical applications like video surveillance, which demands the highest level of accuracy. These cables feature a plug-and-play design and can be easily deployed and disassembled, cutting deployment time by at least 70%-80%, and they also make a great choice for disaster recovery situations. The pre-terminated fiber cables can be used to make temporary data communication setups, often used by individuals and businesses to minimize potential downtimes.

Read more about fiber termination here.

Inserting Power into Video Security Networks

Since the fiber optic cable doesn’t carry electricity along the way, if you need to power the IP cameras, there are basically three ways to do so: using a power adapter, taking advantage of solar power or sending power in parallel.

DC12V Power Adapter

If there is an electrical infrastructure available at the edge, you just need to use power adapters to power up the media converters and the IP cameras. The power adapter can convert the alternating currents to the low voltage DC power that low power consumption devices can receive. But you need to pay close attention to the maximum power your media converter can consume and choose the compatible power adapter accordingly since the voltage tolerance of every network device varies. And considering most IP cameras require a standard 12V DC power supply, it’s highly recommended to deploy compatible network devices (i.e. media converters) and power adapters that share the same voltage.

Solar Power System

Since power outlets are often unavailable in hard-to-reach areas, it would be too impractical and expensive to run a traditional wired power source to the edge devices, but the solar power system allows you to install a camera in remote locations, extremely helpful for applications such as oil and gas, construction sites, parking lots, remote gates and ranches. These are the basic components you will need to solar power your security camera: a solar panel, a solar charge controller, a rechargeable battery and proper cables for the power load. Place the solar panel in a location where it will not be in shade for shading of even a small part of the panel can result in low power generation. To figure out how much energy your solar panel can produce, you need to know the amount of peak sunlight hours your location gets. And you’ll need a solar charge controller to control the amount of charge coming in and out of the battery and regulate the optimum performance of the battery. Since the entire power required to run the IP cameras is drawn from the battery, make sure the battery you use has a large storage capacity and features fast charging for continuous monitoring and recording. The size of the connected cable is very important to deliver high-performance power management. If the size of the cable is too small, there will be severe power loss. The length of the cable also needs to be considered: basically, the longer the distance is, the larger the size needs to be.

Sending Power in Parallel

Another way is to run a power cable in parallel with a fiber optic cable to transmit power and data simultaneously when the distance is less than 2km. But don’t run them in the same conduit since high voltage electrical cables can and will induce currents in conventional fiber cable sheaths which can cause them to break down prematurely. It’s always better to run a separate communications conduit instead. It is an ideal solution for applications in far-of-reach areas without existing electrical infrastructures. Recently, Fastcabling has introduced an upgraded version of the Fiber Termination Box with power management features built inside to realize fiber and power management at the same time, leveraging the same benefits that PoE can provide but with improved network performance. The technical difficulties of powering remote devices will be reduced by running a separate power cord from the control center. Separating data and power allows the copper cable to deliver power at the higher output with less power loss and voltage drop at greater distances. Compared with the hybrid fiber cable, the fiber termination box offers a safer option to deliver power and data to the IP cameras simultaneously and allows you to maintain or replace the broken units/cables when needed.

Following the Procedures Below:

1. Connect the fiber optic switch (uplink ports) to the router and NVR with the Cat5 cables.

2. Plug the SFP modules into the fiber switch and the PoE fiber media converters.

3. Use the pre-terminated fiber cables to connect the fiber switch and the media converters.

4. Power the fiber switch and media converters with power adapters.

5. Use the Cat5e cables to connect the PoE fiber media converters to the IP cameras.

Installation Tips

1. How to manage fiber optic cables?

As the number of connected devices increases, the distribution and management of fiber cables become more and more difficult. To address this problem, the fiber termination box was created to manage the incoming and outgoing cables. It offers a cost-effective method to organize multiple strands of fiber cables in a budget-friendly way. Considering fiber optic cables are more susceptible to physical damages caused by bending, folding or pinching than copper cables, extra protection is needed. For more information, please continue to read 101 Guidelines for Fiber Termination Box.

2. How to run the fiber optic cables?

There are mainly two ways to run the fiber cables: aerial and underground. For aerial building, you’ll need to wire the aerial fiber optic cables (specially designed for outside plant installation) between poles by being lashed to a wire rope messenger strand with a small gauge wire. But building new poles is costly and geographically challenging, which is only recommended for professional, large-scale network deployments. On the other hand, conduit cabling is often used both indoors and outdoors especially for underground cables. But as is mentioned above, if you’re gonna run the power cable along with the fiber optic cables, they should be arranged in different conduits.